Currently Newcastle sit in 10th position in the Premier League table, with just two wins, three draws, and two defeats. Here are five things the start to the season has taught us...
1) Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse still not gelling, but are improving
It was no coincidence that Demba Ba's goalscoring form last season ended when Cisse was brought into the team. Cisse himself has endured a lean spell this season compared to his scintillating form at the end of last, with Ba topping the Premier League scoring charts with six goals. Even despite this, there still remain questions over how effective the pair are as a tandem, and if they bring the best out of each other. It seems if one does well, then the other suffers, and until they click, a return to 4-5-1 and one of them being left out or played wide remains a possibility. Recent weeks and Ba's return to form, and Cisse getting off the mark, have brought about hope that they are getting it together.
2) Balancing the league and Europa is as tough as expected
It was forecast before the season began that combining the Premier League and Europa League would be a tough test for Newcastle. It is not only the extra matches, but the quick turnaround times from Thursday nights to weekend matches, as seen by the dip in performance from the Bordeaux game to the Manchester United match at the weekend. Later this month the club face Club Brugges at home before hosting this year's early surprise package West Brom a few games later, and anything less than three points in the league will be viewed as a disappointment.
3) Injuries are threatening to derail their ambition
Newcastle can point to their 10th place in the table and argue it is not just the Europa effect, but they have been unlucky with injuries. At one stage almost the entire spine of their team was out, with Krul, Coloccini and Tiote, with just the Ivorian featuring at the weekend. Last year one of the main reasons behind the club's excellent start was their settled backline, and against United the entire back five from a year ago were missing. Krul, Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor, and Danny Simpson. Ryan Taylor is out until the New Year after being injured in the Europa League, and the limitations of their stand-ins were exposed at the weekend on set pieces. Newcastle need their key defenders back as quickly as possible if they are to catch up this year's pace setters.
4) Gabriel Obertan is no closer to fulfilling his potential
A year after signing, Gabriel Obertan remains a frustrating figure. He provided the opener against former club Bordeaux by crossing for Shola Ameobi last week, but prior to that turned in a woeful performance at Old Trafford in the League Cup reminiscent of the ones he displayed in a Red Devils shirt. And that there, remains his biggest problem, inconsistency. With the excellent Hatem Ben Arfa and reliable Jonas Gutierrez holding down first team places, Obertan needs to improve if he is to become a first team regular.
5) A lack of signings may prevent further advancement
We asked prior to the season if Mike Ashley had done enough in the transfer market, and at present it does not appear so, not if they are going to improve on last year's fifth placed finish. The Premier League seems more competitive than ever, with Everton and Chelsea, who both finished below the Toon last season, setting this year's pace. Newcastle undoubtedly did well to hang onto their star players, and Alan Pardew's new contract indicates a long-term strategy, but with recent injuries, and lack of experienced alternatives to the increasingly injury-prone Tiote in the centre, the club may well find the best case scenario this season is seventh or eighth, unless money is spent in the transfer window.
image: © machernucha